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Chapter 3

Over the course of the following week, the unusually fine weather came to an end and the heavens opened. It was a several days before Anastasia was allowed by her governess and mother to venture outside. Of course, had it been her decision, she would have been out each day, come rain or shine. There was nothing she loved better than nature and being close to it. She was determined to oblige her mother's wishes, however, and waited indoors as patiently as she could. There were not many activities to occupy herself with while in the confines of the house. There were only so many cushions one could embroider before being overcome with frustration. This resulted in a rather uncomfortable few days for Mademoiselle Dubois, who was forced to listen to Anastasia's endless grumbling about the ill-fated weather. It was with great relief, therefore, that both teacher and pupil left the house some five days later.

They were walking towards the village of Priston, which was the only evidence of civilisation separating the estates of Avondale and Fawley. They made this journey each week, if not more, for there was little where else worth walking to in the winter and Anastasia would use its convenient distance from Fawley as an excuse to call on her cousins during the holidays.

While Mademoiselle Dubois entered a dress-makers, Anastasia asked to remain outside, for 'the dress-makers was so dreadfully boring, unless she was being fitted', or so she informed her governess. It was a clear, bright afternoon. The village was bustling with traders and farmers marketing their goods. The shrieks an cries of children playing in the school yard sounded distantly. Everything was as it always was. Anastasia wandered down the street slowly, being careful not to step into the pools of water that had gathered as a result of the rain. It was just as she was skipping over one of these puddles that somebody called out. Her head jerked up and, her concentration lost, she tripped over a loose stone and fell into the murky water.

Anastasia cried out as she landed on her back, mud splashing out around her.

"Are you alright, miss?" An strong hand clasped her arm and hauled her up, another arm supporting her back. Anastasia could only groan in response, massaging her hands, marked with the print of several small stones which had dug into her palms when she fell. Despite her pain, she pulled herself upright, eager to scrutinise the the person who had helped her.

She was taken aback. He was a young man, appearing to be about eighteen, Robert's age. His hair was darker than her own, with eyes to match. He was tall and lean, but obviously strong, and he held himself proudly. He was finely attired, evidently the son of a gentleman, which caused her to wonder that she had never seen him before. He was quite handsome, she supposed, noticing this with a blush.

"I am perfectly capable of getting up myself, sir, thank you," she said curtly to hide her embarrassment.

His eyebrows raised slightly and he struggled to suppress a smile as his expression of concern disappeared.

"Indeed? My most sincere apologies." His tone was mocking.

Anastasia's feelings towards this unknown gentleman immediately changed. She felt anger boiling up inside of her. How rude.

Forcing herself not to snap back, she instead examined the damage inflicted on her dress. It was not as bad as she had originally believed, though her skirt was completely ruined by the dirt. Mademoiselle would not be pleased.

Now that she was recovered, and a little more composed in her emotions, her thoughts returned the stranger who had pulled her up. Who is he? He isn't from around here. Of that, she was certain. She would have dearly wished to ask him such questions, but she had already been brusque enough. It would not do to inquire further; she knew he might take offence. Not that she cared particularly if he did.

Anastasia inclined her head ever so slightly in his direction. "Well... good day then, sir."

He raised his brow again, this time looking confused, and almost, Anastasia thought, incredulous.

"But - Are you not injured? Don't you require some assistance returning home?"

"It is but a mere bruise. I daresay I'll be able to walk. But I thank you nevertheless for your concern," Anastasia replied through gritted teeth. The young man's expression changed again and he looked as though he was trying to refrain from laughing.

"If you are no longer in need of my assistance. Good day." He tipped his hat and disappeared down the road.

What an unpleasant gentleman! Anastasia scowled. At that moment, Mademoiselle Dubois exited the dress-makers.

"Now, we should return 'ome quickly as ze Graysons are coming for d-Anastasie! Que s'est-il passé?" Mademoiselle Dubois' cry caused many passers-by to stare at both Anastasia and her governess. Anastasia coloured a little, feeling very self-concious, but groaned inwardly too, knowing what 'Mam'zellle' and her mother would say. The second time in a week that she had destroyed one of her dresses. Oh dear.

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